Mental Health & Neurology

    Pandemics & Infectious Diseases

AXA Awards


Improving the Mental Health of Young Children After COVID-19

The first three years of primary school are pivotal for establishing a firm foundation for long-term student academic, social, and well-being outcomes. Children with a poor transition to primary school are at increased risk for a host of detrimental outcomes, including poorer academic performance, early school dropout, behavioral and emotional problems, and poor peer and teacher relationships.
Schools around the world shut down during COVID-19, and this is likely to have led to poorer child mental well-being due to family stress and anxiety about the situation. In addition, as schools reopen, many are looking for ways to support students during the back to classes transition to ensure they have the appropriate skills to navigate this period. Mindfulness (broadly defined as the ability to pay purposeful attention to a present moment focus, non-judgmentally, with acceptance or curiosity, bringing attention back if distracted) is an approach that has rapidly gained popularity in Australia and internationally. Mindfulness-based interventions aim to improve student attention, self-regulation, and executive functioning. Yet, despite a recent rapid uptake of mindfulness-based interventions, there is a glaring lack of robust scientific research examining whether mindfulness interventions lead to improved long-term outcomes for students.

Dr. Jon Quach, an AXA Research Fund Award recipient from the University of Melbourne, wants to “address the modifiable determinants of child developmental and mental health inequities” in order to help bridge that gap. He proposes studying the recently established Minds@Play cohort (an Australian study aiming to understand the efficacy of a teacher-led mindfulness intervention on improving the outcomes of students during the important early years of school) as it navigates the demands of transitioning from social isolation back to physically attending schools. “It is okay to lose focus and attention at some time”, shares the scientist, “but it is important to get back to focus and attention”, and mindfulness at schools can play a key role here. Using multi-source informants, direct-assessment, and academic data-linkage, the researcher and his team have 3 main goals. The first is understanding how social isolation (associated with not being able to go to school) has influenced the immediate and long-term outcomes of children’s mental well-being, behavior, emotional regulation, and health-and-school-service use on the one hand, and the mental well-being and parenting practices of parents on the other hand. A second goal is to determine the child, family, and environmental risks and protective factors pathways preceding social isolation on the different outcomes.  Dr. Quach will also examine whether a teacher-delivered mindfulness intervention can improve the mental well-being and academic outcomes of students once they have transitioned back to school.

At the end of the day, this project –replicable in other places and countries - will improve both future teacher practices and pupil wellbeing and, in so doing, its output should ultimately help to “create a healthier and more productive future population.”



The University of Melbourne





ORCID Open Researcher and Contributor ID, a unique and persistent identifier to researchers